Read BENEATH - A Novel Online

Authors: Jeremy Robinson

BENEATH - A Novel (6 page)

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Connelly, who had been lost in a sea of anger, snapped to attention, listening to every word
was saying. "Biological?"

"Dead, of course," Nancy said, "destroyed during re-entry, but let there be no doubt, there is life on Europa, and we're going to get a look at it, up close and personal. We want you three to go."

Connelly looked stunned, but her defiance managed to take one last stab. "If we don't?" she said.

crossed her legs and sat back in the chair. "The project will go on without you and the operation of TES will be given to someone else.
Though I'd prefer you on the team; if something were to go wrong I can't think of anyone better qualified to make the repairs. Can you?"

"You're telling me," Connelly started, "that you're sending us into space to search for life...on a moon. And if we don't go, my work, my life's work is going to go without me?"


Connelly's eyes dropped to the floor and she stared at it blankly. Questions flooded her mind. "Am I correct in assuming there isn't even an atmosphere around this moon."

said, "There is. Albeit, very thin, but it does contain small amounts of oxygen. Kathy, I understand how you must be feeling right now, but the possibilities for discovery are beyond anything humanity has ever achieved."

Connelly became suspicious and squinted her eyes. "If we already discovered alien life from this meteorite of yours, why haven't we heard about it? Why isn't it plastered on every newspaper from here to

"That's because,"
said, "we haven't told anyone. Various space agencies have made major blunders in the past by going off half cocked and announcing to the world that they've made some major discovery, only to have it proved wrong in full view of the public. The result is a loss of credibility and of funding, governmental or otherwise. So you can see why we're treating this delicately. Failure, right now, means discovering we were wrong and that's it. But if we told the world we had discovered extraterrestrial life, and then, oops, we were wrong… Well, that would set the world's space programs back. And I'm not going to let that happen."

Robert was nodding, "Makes sense."

Connelly sighed and shook her head.

"I'm sorry,"
said, "but I really do need an answer."

Connelly looked
in the eyes. "The simple fact that I go where TES goes, means I'm in. But, what you've told us— I never considered that TES might be used for something so foolish. So incredible. The possibility of finding life somewhere else in our solar system is...unbelievable. But I do have one condition."

nodded, waiting patiently.

"When we get back...when we return, I get TES back. Finding E.T. will be the discovery of a lifetime, but I'm still interested in understanding our own planet."

"Of course,"
said. "We will have a second TES unit built for you while you're gone. I'm afraid once TES is deployed, she will remain on the surface of Europa forever.

Connelly looked at Robert and Willard. "Well, boys? Feel like going to Jupiter?"

The best Robert could manage was a slow, stunned nod. Connelly looked beyond Robert to Willard. She was surprised to see his face looking very upset.

"I don't know, boss. It doesn't sound very safe. You on a moon. But you're crazy and likely to get hurt, and you'll need someone to save your butt. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't go, but... Are you kidding? I'm in like sin."

had to stifle a smile that grew at seeing Willard's excitement. "Excellent," she said. "I'll inform the council that we have the rest of our crew."

Connelly froze. "The rest of our crew?"

"You didn't think you were going into space alone, did you?"
stood. "You'll meet them soon. For now, let's get you settled."

Connelly, Robert and Willard stood from their chairs and onto wobbly legs. They followed after Nancy, who was heading for the door. Willard slapped Robert on the back. "You know," he said, "I was wrong about you nerds. You guys do get to have fun. I might not die from boredom after all."



Connelly was out of breath when she reached the fifteenth floor of the GEC training facility. She had waited ten minutes for the elevator with no luck, so she had opted for the stairs. As she approached the sixteenth floor, she began doubting her decision to climb twenty-three flights of stairs.

A week had passed since Connelly learned she'd be joining the first manned mission to a moon beyond our own. But right now, the mission was far from her mind. With her armpits growing damp from exertion, she was being to worry that the other crew members, whom she would soon be meeting for the first time, would get a bad impression of her. Connelly was in great shape, but even a marathon runner would have had a hard time vaulting up twenty-three flights of steep stairs.

That's what she told herself anyway.

When Connelly rounded the stairwell and headed for the seventeenth floor, she heard panting. She slowed her pace and looked through the bars. A man was standing on the top stair of the next floor, his hands on his knees and his head lowered. From this viewpoint she could see he had well manicured, wavy black hair, and was casually dressed in tan slacks and short sleeves.

Not a scientist
, she thought.

She continued forward, trying not to look hurried. "Hi," she said as she began to walk past the man.

The winded man looked up and smiled. Kathy felt a twang inside her stomach as the man's face came into view. His cheeks were covered in rough stubble, which suited him, his eyes were dark brown and his smile was as white as an Antarctic white-wash.

Definitely not a scientist.

"You on the new GEC stairwell exercise plan too, huh?" he said.

Connelly smiled. "Mmm, I find the stairwell paint smell invigorating."

"I hadn't noticed anything invigorating about this stairwell," he said, then flashed a brilliant smile. "Until now."

Ugh, must be from PR
, Connelly thought.

She began to move past him, doing her best not to return his smile.

"Sorry," he said. "That was inappropriate."

Connelly paused. He stood straight and extended his hand. "Michael," he said. "I'm in geology."

Connelly inadvertently raised her eyebrows. Trying to hide her surprise, she quickly shook his hand. "Kathy. Oceanography," she said.

"Huh," the man looked surprised.


"Just didn't take you for an ologist."

Connelly cringed.
? " don't look like a geologist either," she said, looking down at her clothes. She was dressed in jeans and a tight fitting white blouse.
like an 'ologist'.

He smiled. "I guess we're even then. Where you headed?"

"Twenty-third floor."

"Me too. Mind if I keep you company on the way?"

Kathy wasn't sure if she should be excited or annoyed, but saying "no" in either case would seem rude. "Lead the way."

Michael paused at the next flight of stairs. He turned to Connelly and said, "You're not married, are you?"

Kathy stopped on the fifth stair to the top.

Who is this guy? The Don Juan of geologists?

"No," she said. "My line of work doesn't leave much room for romance."

"Ouch," he said, and gave another of his infectious smiles. "Guess we'll have to schedule dinner far in advance, huh?" He continued up the stairs, more slowly now, giving Connelly a chance to keep up.

Is he really asking me out for dinner or is this all a tricky geologist ruse
? She pushed the conundrum from her mind. It didn't matter anyway. In three months she'd be standing on the surface of Europa and Michael the geologist would be millions of miles away.




Connelly scoured the door numbers as she walked through the maze of hallways, looking for room 117, where she was scheduled to meet the rest of the Europa crew. Michael the geologist was still with her, apparently unable to find his room as well.

"You been here before?" Connelly asked.

Michael scratched his head. "Once, but never on this floor. It's a maze."

"Maybe it's a test," Kathy said. "Whoever is smart enough to figure out where their room is, is smart enough to be employed by the GEC."

"Looks like we're getting pink slips tonight."

They rounded a corner and were faced with a long hallway. The door to the right was labeled 103. The door to the left was labeled 23. Michael shook his head. "Like driving in

"You been there?"

"Born and raised. Well, not in
, south of
. An island off the cape. Martha's Vineyard."

Connelly slid past Michael and checked the door numbers as they moved down the hall. "Ooh, someone grew up with a silver spoon."

"Not everyone on the island is rich."


"Ooh, I get it now."

"You're from the mainland. Let me guess. The

Kathy paused and smiled. "Beverly."

"Close enough," Michael said.

Connelly started down the hallway again. "Well it's not where I spend my time now."

"And where might that be?"

"Ass end of the world.

Michael laughed. "Wouldn't you know it? We're polar opposites! I spend most of my time under the skirt of the
Arctic Circle
. So much for dinner."

Connelly raised an eyebrow as Michael took the lead again, searching the door numbers. "I never said yes."

Michael gave her a skeptical glance.

Connelly ignored it. "What's a geologist doing in the arctic?"

"Looking for meteorites," Michael said.

Connelly squinted. "Meteorites?"

Michael stopped in front of a door. "Ahh," he said. "Here's my stop."

Connelly looked at the door. It was number 117.

Michael smiled. "Shall I open the door for you, Dr. Connelly?"

There was no hiding Connelly's shocked expression.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Michael extended his hand. "Michael Peterson.
geologist. I discovered the Europa sample. I'm the geologist on the Europa mission."

Connelly shook his hand for the second time.
. "You knew who I was this entire time."

Michael Peterson nodded. "Sorry about that. I couldn't resist. Look at it this way, at least dinner is an option again." Michael opened the door. "Ladies and mission leaders first.

Connelly walked through the open door.




"Look who's late," Willard said as Connelly entered the room.

She gave Willard a sarcastic smile. After Michael Peterson's ruse, she was in no mood for witty banter. She looked around the room. For a multi-billion dollar corporation, they certainly hadn't put much effort into snazzing up the training facilities. The room reminded her of her third grade classroom at
back in
, minus the plants, toys and schoolbooks. There were five rows of adult sized desks, a white board at the front of the room and a large mirror at the back.

She was tempted to wave to whoever was observing them on the other side of the mirror, but thought better of it.

The room lacked the chalky smell of old classrooms, but more than made up for it with the odor of permanent markers and bleach.

"Who's your friend?" Willard said as Peterson entered the room behind Connelly and shut the door.

"Robert, Ethan, this is Michael Peterson. He's the geologist who discovered the Europa meteorite, and he's going to be our geologist on the mission."

"Hey, Mikey," Willard said as he shook Peterson's hand with a dazzling array of moves ending with a punch of the fists. Michael looked horrified by the end and pulled his hand away quickly.

"Ethan Willard," Peterson said. "Safety specialist...and smart ass."

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